I’m a student. I think long after I graduate with one or multiple degrees, I will still consider myself a student. Maybe as a result of being raised an only child, I became an avid reader at a young age and to this day my friends tease me for bringing a book wherever I go ‘just in case’. So, it was only natural that when it came time to decide what I would study in university it would be English Literature and History.
It is through my studies that I become enchanted with all things to do with the Middle East. It is a region seeped in history and yet wildly relevant to present day politics. The language and culture of each country within the Middle East is so unique that is almost misleading to bundle them up in such a package.
I turned to the culinary map and became obsessed with the orange blossom scented desserts, exotic spices and rich flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine. Of course, the term ‘Middle Eastern’ is much too broad to cover the wildly different spectrum of life and cooking in each country within the region but I’ve set out on a kind of culinary adventure to sample the delights of each nation.
Today, we are trying Iraqi stuffed onions (Dolma Mahshi). Individual layers of cooked onion are wrapped around a fragrant combination of spiced lamb, couscous, nuts and golden raisins and served with tomato sauce and thick yoghurt on the side. It is a slightly time consuming recipe but it serves approximately 8-10 people and makes for delicious leftovers. If you don’t have some of the more exotic ingredients such as sumac spice, substitute for nutmeg or allspice, or the pomegranate molasses than use one tablespoon of date or regular molasses. It is also easy to omit the lamb in this recipe in order to make it vegetarian.
I pulled influence from some of my favorite Middle Eastern Cookbooks, particularly Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and The New Middle Eastern Cookbook by Claudia Roden. These resources are not only rich with recipes but also cooking techniques and little stories about Ottolenghi’s family or the folk hero known as Joha, Abbu Nawwas and Goha among other names. If you are interested in Middle Eastern cuisine these two cookbooks are essentials.
- 4 large white onions
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon harissa paste
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¼ cup golden raisins
- ¼ cup sliced almonds
- ⅓ pistachios, shelled
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ tsp minced ginger
- 1 cup Israeli couscous
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 2 teaspoons coriander
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoons allspice
- 2¼ cups chicken broth
- 2 cups pureed tomato sauce
- 2 teaspoons sumac
- Peel the skin from the onions and cut off the top and bottoms. In a large saucepan bring water to a boil and add the whole onions. Allow to simmer on medium low heat for 30 minutes. Drain the water and allow the onions to cool.
- In 1¼ cups of chicken broth, bring the couscous to a gentle boil before turning the heat to low. Cover and allow to simmer for 10 minute or until the grain is light and fluffy.
- Brown the lamb in a pan over high heat. Lower the heat and add the tomato paste, harissa, honey and nuts. Stir over low heat for a few minutes, add the spices and turn off.
- Combine the cooked couscous with the pomegranate molasses and spices. Mix with the lamb mixture of keep separate for a vegetarian options.
- Slice each onion halfway through the middle and peel off 5-6 layers large enough to fold over 2 tablespoons of stuffing. Roll the stuffed onions and place side by side in a baking dish. Mix together the tomato sauce and the remaining 1 cup of broth before pouring it over the onions. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and sumac. Serve with a small bowl of yoghurt on the side as a dipping option.